July 4th is a confusing day for me.
After all, I spent my first two decades in Indonesia, travel on an American passport, and now am stretching taproots down into Dutch soil. Having multiple cultural loyalties enriches my life, but it also dilutes my sense of belonging and pride tied to any one place. Patriotism is a glut of identity hang-ups for me.
It all started out okay — Mum homeschooled us for some years, and we would begin the day in our slanted plywood schoolhouse with eyes fixed on the tiny stars-and-stripes flag taped to the whiteboard, clapping our small hands to our chests and reciting the Pledge of Allegiance with oomph.
I’m not sure when the oomph started seeping away; I don’t usually care that it’s gone. But at a party the other night I found myself strangely disturbed as a well-watered, overeager Dutchman regaled us with endless anecdotes from his road trip through the state I tell people I’m from. I didn’t know any of the hole-in-the-wall cafes, bars, secret beaches, and neighborhoods where he had been, and each story began to feel like a splinter of shrapnel aimed at the small bit of ownership I still feel for California. I left the party rudely and abruptly, and when I got home an ugly sobfest overtook me before I could even unlace my shoes.
I guess there still is a bit of oomph left in me yet? No fireworks, just a single sparkler’s worth.